Taylor Scott Band (from the album All We Have available as a self-release)
Sparing a thought for the All We Have album title, Taylor Scott opens his recent release with a 30 second PSA, offering wisdom as ‘the day-to-day is all we have’. Backing his words with organ and tambourine, Taylor’s voice is center stage, foregoing the need to shine in the spotlight and subtly rolling out the songs with Soul on steroids that flows from his vocals on full display. The momentary light breath of music that the Taylor Scott Band use to soundtrack their opening monologue is an island of calm that prefaces the wriggling guitar licks leading into “Somebody Told Me”, the vocal a Soul shout that speaks of spirit as the Taylor Scott Band lay out funky footsteps as a foundation for the message. All We Have picks out a sunshine groove for the Southern Soul of “Salted Watermelon”, scratches strums to spark the hammering rhythms of “Carry Me Away”, and lays back on a smooth current as “The Walk” sails on a lightly jazzed-up dreamscape.
The beat shudders with anticipation before settling to a gallop that tears across “Curiosity” as All We Have tosses storyline coins into the steady rolling rhythms of “Wishing Well”, quiets the percussive stammer of “Clearance Bin” to share secret wishes through memories. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), All We Have We Have spins the style wheel for the songs, Taylor Scott’s voice remaining the constant as the soundscapes. The Taylor Scott Band are joined by Henry Garza on a Latin Jazz-tinged rock patter for “Hair of Indigo”, make a list of “Good Things” a rambling rhythm, and wonder “Where We Are Going” on a confident Country Rock-fueled stride.
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Western States from the album From the Center Out available Marquette Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Western States is a band like that kid walking along a chain-link fence. One side of the fence is the smooth instrumentation and vocals that yield a clean, Country Rock package. The other side of the fence is that Midwest rough and tumble Rock’n’Roll music inspired by Uncle Tupelo, where subtle twang takes a swing and always seems on the verge of the punch exploding. Western States as the kid by the fence keep a balance, taking in what either side has to offer, refusing to commit to one side or the other, looking at the big picture as a fence where anything fits under the Western States brand.
From the Center Out ditches the fence and the result is a backyard full of Roots Rock where the Rock doesn’t fully commit to the cowpunk to the point of the sound not overpowering the story within the song; it is a great backyard hang.
“Fire and Rage” and “Give This Town Away” kick the record off with slow burning ballads, laying comfortable groundwork for ripping guitar work heard in the road song, “Gun Feels Heavy.” “I Can Get Down,” is a Southern Rock boogie tune about a ‘riverboat casino that can barely float’, and “Details” shifts the vibe into a heartbreaking narrative; it’s a lonely-fiddle heavy ballad about making the rent and taking a look at those folks that fall short. From the Center Out closes with the anthemic “Fever,” a power-chord heavy tune that screams ‘nothing in this world is gonna break the world you put in my veins’. It’s a closer that sums up Western States whole deal, a loosely wrapped present of roots, twang and jam handed off with some Midwestern charm. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Amy LaVere (from the album Painting Blue available on Nine Mile Records)
Touches of jazz-inflected Spanish guitar acoustics face off against a decisive electric guitar riff that snaps at the melody, Amy LaVere the mediator for the musical mood as she delivers a message of love on John Martyn’s “I Don’t Wanna Know”. The cut opens Painting Blue, the recent release from the Austin, Texas musician. Her Live Music Capital of the World address finds Amy LaVere letting her memories travel, marking clock time on a Soul trance groove for “Not in Memphis” as Painting Blue feels the walls close in, a heartbeat and a sad choir harmony defining the life choices in “No Room for Baby” as it marches with a steadfast resolve into “No Battle Hymn”, the storyline looking for mercy and an exit in equal measure.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Amy LaVere’s childhood changed addresses with her dad’s jobs, taking her to various locales with notable stops in Canada, Texas, Maryland, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. She formed her first band while still in high school outside of Detroit and over the course of a career, she has fronted bands and appeared on stage solo, becoming a player for groups such as Motel Mirrors as well as Luther Dickinson and the Sisters of the Strawberry Moon. A seductive tone, part victim, part aggressor, drives the stories of Painting Blue, Amy LaVere’s voice the velvet hammer nailing the retelling of Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding” and the easy guide reporting on accordion swells and strong rhythms that wrap around the childhood reflections of “Stick Horse”. Produced by husband Will Sexton, Painting Blue softens the wreckage of a heart making wishes in “Love I’ve Missed” as Amy LaVere confidently struts on a rock’n’roll beat, exiting the album by spreading its title while it finger-points a former friend’s color choice with “Painting Blue (on Everything)”.
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Those Pretty Wrongs from the album Zed for Zulu available on Burger Records (by Bryant Liggett)
Their collective resume screams Indie Rock before style was a genre, Luther Russell fronting The Freewheelers out of Los Angeles, Jody Stephens drumming for Big Star and a major player at Memphis’ Ardent Studios. The pair coming together forming Those Pretty Wrongs with the recent debut Zed for Zulu exploring Indie Folk, Rock’n’Roll, and Psychedelic ballads. “Ain’t Nobody but Me” could be an REM outtake from their early releases before the hits starting stacking up, pulled from the Life’s Rich Pageant playbook ripe with guitar jangle and screaming Athens, Georgia circa 1980. “Hurricane of Love” has Prog Rock tendencies, a psychedelic ballad from a fusion band that never takes off on an instrumental explosive tear, leaving the sound as a beautiful, stand-alone, Folk tune.
“You and Me” begins with the line ‘the sea looks wrinkled, torn and split, the sun casts shadows over it, the harvest moon has come and gone, and the birds forget to sing their song’, a perfect nod to Yes, but what follows is a song out of The Byrds’ playbook. “A Day in The Park” is a dreamy acoustic cut and “Undertow” has a piano bounce along with a melody hook that will plant itself in the center of your head. Released on Burger Records, this may seem out of place with their roster, but Those Pretty Wrongs a solid curveball to keep the label’s fans on their music loving toes. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Sunny War from the album Shell of a Girl available on Hen House Studios (by Bryant Liggett)
The phrase ‘Punk Blues’ gets regularly tossed at Sydney Ward aka Sunny War, which may call for a re-defining of term. A second definition should avoid the take on Blues with the power of Punk from Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion or The Immortal Lee County Killers, and the description should include the laidback and hushed vocal, as heard on Sunny War’s Shell of a Girl. It is a softly quiet record, and if it is a blues record listeners should find similarities in Nina Simone and not Muddy Waters.
Quietly plucked guitar and soft percussion open Shell of a Girl with “Shell”, an opener that lays out a broken relationship; the girl in said relationship getting the bad rap, the man coming to his senses only to find ‘the girl you knew is gone’.
“Drugs are Bad” is a look at the big mess that is the result of the big pharmacy business, an equally big message tucked underneath a monotone delivery and subtle, 1970’s AM radio melody while “Love Became Pain” is the Rock number of Shell of a Girl, the most upbeat of the eleven cuts driven by a locomotive drum rhythm. “Rock and Roll Heaven” contemplates the idea that if there is in fact such a place, Sunny War has ‘made it past 27, there goes my ticket to rock and roll heaven. “XO” closes Shell of a Girl with a soft love song, where Sunny War chases the idea of being a romantic, looking for ‘one more chance, to prove to you I know a thing or two about romance’. It wraps up the record like a love letter, signing with a “good, old fashioned XO.” (by Bryant Liggett)
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Them Coulee Boys (from the album Die Happy available on LoHi Records)
Well, the way I heard it, Them Coulee Boys met at a Bible camp and honed their sound in the back valleys of western Wisconsin. Beginnings aside, what is clear is that the songs on Die Happy, the recent release from Them Coulee Boys, were born with a natural sense of the human condition, translating what they see into laser-sharp assessments of characters and a particularly unique knack of finding the middle ground sweet spot between Punk Rock, Bluegrass, and Rock’n’Roll. Memories take a lost heart back in time recalling that ‘you always said I was a better lover (dancer) than I was’ make a kind-of punk rock semi-prayer out of the title track, the cry sent up into the heavens with the TCB choir joining in the wish of ‘lord, lord, lord, let me die happy’.
The center stage spotlight finds a Folk musician’s honesty stiching slogans together for “Me & My Anxiety”, shrugging as the gas gauge runs low when Them Coulee Boys steadily percolate in the groove of “Mary’s on the Telephone”, quiet in the search for “Evangelina, and follow the funk into “Midnight Manifestos”. Graduates of the Midwest music scene, Them Coulee Boys built a base from the ground up beginning in 2013, branding the sound of an ‘Alt-Folk machine’. In the winter of 2018 Them Coulee Boys (Soren Staff, Beau Janke, Jens Staff, Neil Krause, and Patrick Phalen IV) were seeking a new sound, finding a like-minded compatriot in friend, and Die Happy producer, Dave Simonett (Trampled by Turtles), and entering Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, MN, home to landmark recordings by Nirvana, Son Volt, and PJ Harvey. Die Happy offers a two-part telling on “Hand of God”, confessing as a voice on the phone in “Hand of God, Pt.1”. Making listening to the track not only an experience but an adventure as well, Them Coulee Boys cut off the ending of the first part quicker than an 8-track tape making its own edit, linking the listing placement of Track 2 with the complimenting “Hand of God, Pt.2 & 3” (track 10) picking up the beat as a front seat conversation morphs into a gratitude list carved onto a runaway train rhythm. Die Happy opens on a heartbeat, a military drum roll, and fractured guitar chords for “Pray You Don’t Get Lonely”, the band finding their steps as they proudly march on street parade strums into the song. Them Coulee Boys carve out a story for “5’6” Monument” honoring a punk rock prairie lover as they offer advice over the hushed percussive shudders of “Find Your Muse”.
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Rainbow Girls (from the album Give the People What They Want available as a self-release)
The sonics of Give the People What They Want are an emotive counterpart to the liquid harmonies of Rainbow Girls and the sturdy structures created by guitar and bass lines on the San Francisco Bay Area trio’s recent release. The audio echoes that surround Rainbow Girls cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” transport the threesome to an underground subway tunnel, busking in the waves magical music born of mass transit lines. Give the People What They Want keeps it in the (Welch/Rawlings) family with a cover of Dave Rawlings Machine’s “Ruby”, Rainbow Girls matching the three-part CSN’s harmonies on their version of “Helplessly Hoping” from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash debut.
Originally from Santa Barbara, California before heading to the countryside north of San Francisco, Rainbow Girls transform the songs of other artists, coloring the cuts they choose with brand band brushes as each member takes a stand with a verse on Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain Gonna Fall” (featuring John Craigie and Ben Morrison). Give the People What They Want revisits hits from Nat King Cole (”L-O-V-E”), opening the doors of the album with “Down Home Girl” (Old Crow Medicine Show, The Rolling Stones, Alvin Robinson) as Rainbow Girls join a roster of artists (The Mill Brothers, Sam Cooke, k.d. Lang) to cover “Smoke Rings”, re-tell John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and spin on scratchy electric chords for Patsy Cline’s “Tennessee Waltz”.
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The Walker Roaders (from the album The Walker Roaders available on Ginger Man/Beverly Martel)
The Celtic Punk market has been cornered for years by the likes of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys, with The Pogues reigning over all comers to the crown since forming Pogue Mahone in 1982. The former two are still active, the latter in The Pogues, after a handful of years of successful reunion shows though have collectively been on the backburner after the death of Philip Chevron and the always questionable state of Shane MacGowan. The Pogues laid the groundwork for this musical style that is still respected and revered, currently played out by The Walker Roaders on their self-titled debut, which features Ted Hutt of Flogging Molly, Marc Orrell of Dropkick Murphy’s, and James Fearnley, a founding member and man of the accordion from The Pogues. The Walker Roaders is a sound straight out of The Pogues catalog, accordion heavy, bouncy with some ballads but always ready for an anthemic singalong.
“Lord Randall’s Bastard Son” is a rowdy opener complete with back-ground hollers and a big chorus, and that bounce continues with the mandolin lead that kicks off “Seo Yun”. “The Blackbird Only Knows One Song” is a tender Irish love ballad and “Here Comes the Ice” has a touch of American cow-punk. The Pogues were onto something with the advent of this style of music, a style that still flies under the radar, save for the people that have dug it from the get-go. While The Walker Roaders aren’t as punky as some of the current contemporaries, there’s more than enough melody and plenty of punch to make this a keeper in every Celtic Punk collection.
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Nels Andrews (from the album Pigeon and the Crow available as a self-release)
Words are important to Nels Andrews, his songs chapters to each album’s book from his library of releases. Pigeon and the Crow is the latest edition to join in the output of Nels Andrews, the music swaying to a trance as Nels encourages the target of his words to ‘loosen your hips like a Bollywood queen’ as they carve out a story in “Scrimshaw”, the tale taking a seductive turn as it opts for the warmth of a seaside motel room ‘where we can be strangers” to shelter from the fifty degree winter temps in Santa Cruz, California. Numbers count down to the fall of the characters of “Welterweight”, gentle acoustics comforting the losses and championing the wins as a hefty rhythm sets the stage for “Table in the Kitchen” and the beat collects thick drops of bass guitar and a myriad of notes to make “Holy Water”.
Produced by Irish flutist Nuala Kennedy, the framework for Pigeon and the Crow was put together over a three-day stint in Los Angeles’ Whispering Pine Studios. A rich history preceded the sessions for Pigeon and the Crow, Nels Andrews spending the nights of the recordings sleeping on the floor of the tracking room to soak up the years of creativity embedded in a studio that was originally built for Sam Cooke in the 1960s before becoming a Funk/Soul palace in the 1970’s until the owner found religion in the 1980’s, the space later rehabilitated by Indie rock outfit Lord Huron. Handclaps keep time as Nels Andrews pries the story from “Lion’s Jaws”, plucks a heartbeat from the bass line and follows the flight of flute notes to find direction for “Memory Compass”. Tender acoustic guitar notes remain steadfast as distant drumbeats tap out the title tracks while Pigeon and the Crow heads “South of San Gregorio” on a percussive rumble and Nels Andrews sways on island rhythms riding “Embassy to the Airport”.
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Beth Bombara (from the album Evergreen available on Lemp Electric)
It wasn’t a quest, just a cabin named Evergreen. Beth Bombara needed to clear her head and environment change from her formative years in Michigan and her adopted home of St. Louis, Missouri. Beth headed west, coming to rest in the Rocky Mountains. The songs she collected have a home under an album title that nods to the point of their creation with Evergreen, Beth Bombara recalling that ‘I wasn’t writing a new record -- at least, I didn’t think I was at the time but I’m starting to realize, that’s just what I do. I write songs. You know how trees exhale oxygen? They don’t think too hard about oxygen...it’s just a byproduct of their existence. Well, songs are a byproduct of my existence. I’ve already exhaled these songs, but maybe they’re a needed breath for someone else. And the idea that even one other person needs them is what fulfills me’
Her delivery has a laid back calm as the lead guitar runs rampant through “Growing Wings”, Beth Bombara letting the smooth of her voice temper the finger pointing and funk of “Good News” while the groove slithers, twisting and turning underneath “Criminal Tongue” and she admits “I’m Only Alone When I Cry” over a blend of Country and Indie Americana. Heading into the studio with her touring band, adding John Calvin Abney on keyboards (and production), Beth Bombara took a week to record Evergreen, sharing that ‘The five of us just walked in to the studio, set up in one live room, and hammered out the whole album in less than a week. It was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record. Everyone’s doing what they do...it just felt effortless’. The guitar riffs run circles around the revolving rhythms in the rock’n’roll rumble of “Upside Down” as Evergreen asks “Does It Echo” on dreamscape sonics and strums Country into “Tenderhearted”. Beth Bombara pounds out a request for the peace granted from her getaway cabin in the title track and hammers out a political message on a church basement piano for closing cut “All Good Things”.
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